Yellacat Ranch Under a Western Sky

America is a Religion

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Just finished watching “Americans Are Religious About America“. That rings some bells.

Basically, American Civil Religion is when Americans are religious about America. The series argues that Americans are being religious when they create and curate American identity and ideals.”

Robert Bellah says, “The phrase ‘civil religion’ is, of course, Rousseau’s. In chapter 8, book 4 of The Social Contract, he outlines the simple dogmas of the civil religion: the existence of God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and the exclusion of religious intolerance. All other religious opinions are outside the cognizance of the state and may be freely held by citizens. While the phrase ‘civil religion’ was not used, to the best of my knowledge, by the founding fathers, and I am certainly not arguing for the particular influence of Rousseau, it is clear that similar ideas, as part of the cultural climate of the late eighteenth century, were to be found among the Americans.

There was a thing briefly, 10 or 11 years ago I think, that takes it further. One of my Roman neo-pagan chums–I can’t remember who it was–posted for awhile about launching an American neo-paganism constructed consciously along Roman lines. I can’t find it now, might have been at LiveJournal, so I’m relying on memory. The idea was that it makes no sense for Americans to hold on to European (or other) gods. We declared our civil independence, so why not our religious independence?

For a project like that, Rome was an easy choice. The new American republic was modeled in part on the Roman republic. When America was founded, Neoclassicism was a major cultural and political influence in both Europe and America.

I was quite taken with this idea, in part because of my deep roots in America and in part because of the logical consistency. I had a website at ReligioAmericana. Very briefly. I can’t find any of its content now, but there wasn’t anything memorable.

I don’t remember much about the social conversation. There was stuff about heroes, holidays, and monuments. I do remember some of them. Dea America (perhaps aka Our Lady of Guadalupe), Columbia, Lady Liberty, the deified George Washington, and all the company of Founders; the patriotic holidays; and the national monuments and battle fields.

I can understand all that. When I was growing up the lamp on my nightstand was a bronze cast of George Washington praying before the Battle of Valley Forge. Definitely a religious piece, as well as a heritage piece. The lamp had belonged to my (step) father and his father before me. My grandfather was George Washington Place. I’m guessing his name was the reason for buying the lamp.

That was the year I added Fortuna Denveriensis and her festival on November 22 to my calendar. In the classical world every city had its local Fortuna. I wouldn’t want to risk not honoring Denver’s.

I also remember a post about the importance of rivers in classical paganism. So, Dea Plata for the patron deity of the Platte River that runs through Denver. Once upon a time I knew the Latinized deities of other American rivers. Now I remember Chalchiuhtlicue but not the re-named Colorado River or Green River. How strange is that?

I think my dad would have been pleased. He believed and taught that foreign religions could not take root in America. The land would reject them. He was thinking of the lure of American Indian religions, but a Romanized American paganism seems like it might be another possibility.

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Updated June 18, 2020 to add links.

Yellacat Ranch Under a Western Sky
Justin Swanstrom

Justin Swanstrom

Made in America. Retired attorney. Bookseller at Shining Lotus. No Nazis in Valhalla. He/him.

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